Monday, June 30, 2014

How to Train Your Dragon 2 sequel worth the wait

PG, 1 hour 45 minutes

Grade:  A-

In a Nutshell:  Everyone in the family will enjoy this adorable DreamWorks sequel by Dean DeBlois.  It impresses with FANTASTIC textures and surfaces: fur, leather, hair, metal, wrinkles on skin, dragon scales, tears, chin hairs, etc.  It’s simply amazing how far animation has come.  I didn’t even see it in 3D!

The narrator begins “With Vikings on the backs of dragons, the world just got a whole lot bigger.”  And so it is.  A good sequel builds upon the solid foundation of its original movie, adding new layers and fun surprises.  This movie does just that.  The audience has grown up since the 2010 original, and this sequel has too, developing a rich story that provides substance to the silliness.

Uplifting theme:  There is an environmental message about caring for animals against evil human predators.  Just so you know, no dragons were harmed in the making of this film. Family and forgiveness are also addressed, as well as courage and love.

Things I liked:
  • There are several running gags that weave throughout the movie.  One features  Ruffnut, the Viking twin sister of Tuffnut, as she falls in love with Erit, a new Viking with bulging biceps.  She's not the least bit feminine and is always fighting with her twin brother, so to see her swoon is unexpected and delightful. She is voiced by the talented Kristen Wiig.  T.J. Miller voices her twin brother, who also plays the comic relief in the newest installment in the Transformers movie franchise, Transformers: Age of Extinction .    
  • Another running gag features adorable sheep who are used for a dragon version of Harry Potter’s Quidditch.  Hilarious.
  • I love movies that take time to provide random and humorous details.  Icicles on mustaches.  Freckles.  Beards braided with leather bows.
  • I want a pair of Astrid’s cute, fuzzy boots.
  • The many air scenes will seriously make you want to fly.
  • “The Dancing and the Dreaming” song with lyrics by Shane MacGowan and music by Jon Thor Birgisson and John Powell is very sweet and feels like a believable song of Viking ancestry.
  • I adore Cate Blanchett.  Other voice talents in the film are Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Craig Ferguson, and Kit Harington.
  • Sure, the flick is fairly predictable, but it's still a fun ride.

Things I didn’t like:
  • Who names their baby “Hiccup”?  A Viking, I guess.
  • SPOILER ALERT:  As awesome as dragons are, I would never leave my baby boy to go live with dragons instead. 
  • Drago.  Really?  They couldn’t think of a more creative name?

Did you know?
  • Directors Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois were not the original directors, but were later hired to create a movie that would appeal to the rug rats AND their parents.
  • Did you know these “Dragon” movies were inspired by a 2003 novel?  Astrid (played by America Ferrara) is a character created just for the movie, as she wasn’t even in the original novel.
  • The character voice of “Toothless” was created by mixing sounds from horses, elephants, tigers, and even the voice of the Sound Designer, Randy Thom.
  • A lot of the scenery is based on real places in Iceland and the Pacific Coast.

Interesting lines:
  • “Men who kill without reason cannot be reasoned with.”  - Stoick
  • “You have the heart of a chief and the soul of a dragon.”  - Valka

Funny lines:
  • “Soil my britches!”  - Erit
  • “Me likey!” – Ruffnut when she sees Erit for the first time.
  • Ruffnut says “Erit was the man of my dreams.”  Gobber says “But Baby, I grew facial hair for you!”
  • Astrid:  “That’s your mother?”
Hiccup: “Now you know where I get my dramatic flair!”

Tips for parents:  There is some fighting and a few scary dragons, but otherwise, even young children should enjoy watching this film.
For your family's collection:

Transformers: Age of LOUD, crashing, exploding metal for 2 1/2 hours

Grade:  B
PG-13, 2 hours 37 minutes

In a Nutshell:   Lots and lots of flying, crashing, exploding metal.  I thought it was funny when an old man at the beginning of the movie sells pieces of his old, abandoned theater to Cade (Mark Wahlberg's character who builds things out of old trash), and says “Sequels are a bunch of crap.”   True fans will enjoy another round of twisted steel, but others may not endure this long, loud, 4th installment of Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise.

Among the new characters added in an attempt to add a fresh take are a Samari who quotes Haiku and a John Goodman voiced Autobot who spits out wisecracks as he chomps on his electronic cigar, one of the few items not used for product placement in the film.  Good and evil Transformers battle for 2 ½ hours in what feels like a Godzilla movie vs. Aliens meets Jurassic Park .

Uplifting theme:  There are several positive messages that run throughout the movie, including overcoming greed, living and fighting with honor, the importance of family, and how you better pick the right aliens as your friends if you want to survive.  Ha ha

Things I liked:
  • You get to see lots of close-up transformations which are extremely cool.
  • I’m always happy to see Mark Wahlberg, Kelsey Grammer and Stanley Tucci in anything.
  • There are a lot of cool aerial views.
  • I thought the high-rise buildings in Beijing were interesting.
  • Awesome, but short sequence at the beginning with dinosaurs.
  • Did you notice the “Got ammo?” bumper sticker on the Autobot truck?

Things I didn’t like:
  • Shia LaBeouf is one of the most talented young actors of today, but does not appear in this movie.  Unfortunately, he’s been too busy lately, getting into trouble for being a jerk.  I really hope he doesn’t self-destruct like Lindsay Lohan.
  • The movie is so loud with constant explosions that it’s often difficult to hear the wisecracks, which are also constant.
  • Director Michael Bay has stated that this film will kick off a second trilogy of Transformers movies.  I’m not so sure that’s a good thing.

Interesting lines:
  • Tessa, the bratty and disobedient (and beautiful, of course) teenage daughter, played by Nicola Peltz, says to her dad “No boys.  Graduate first. You do know that no one else has that rule.”  He responds “Rule? Don’t make it sound harsh.  It’s not a rule.  It’s wisdom.” 
  • “Contracts, like humans, expire.”  - bad transformer.   Sorry I started losing track of all of the good and bad transformers’ names….
  • “You promised me human intelligence…or is there such a thing?”  - bad transformer
  • “We’re human beings – we make mistakes.  That’s what we do.  Sometimes out of those mistakes come the most amazing things.”  - Cade Yeager
  • In Harold Attinger’s office, a sign on the wall says “Freedom isn’t free.”

Funny lines:
  • “Tess, I’m basically you’re uncle.  Su casa es mi casa.  We’re going to lose the casa.”  - Lucas
  • “Research lab?  It’s a barn, dude.”  - Lucas
  • “I don’t think you can own someone.  That was a like a long time ago…even in Texas.” – Lucas
  • “Dad, there’s a missile in the family room.”  - Tessa
  • “If he eats you, I get the GTO.”  - Lucas
  • “We lost them!  Good job, stranger from the cornfields!”  - Lucas
  • “You are so grounded!”  - Cade Yeager
  • “I’m not here to get your daughter; you’re here to help me get my girlfriend.”  - Shane
  • “That was insane!  It was awesome, but it was insane!” - Shane
  • “Romeo and Juliet, huh? You know how those two ended up?”  Cade Yeager
“In love.”   -  Tessa
“Dead.”   - Cade
  • Cade asks Shane “You stole mouthwash?”  Shane quips “I like to be fresh when I’m making out with your daughter.”  Cade barks“That’s never going to happen.”

Dumb lines:
  • “You don’t have a warrant!”   Cade     “My face is my warrant.”  - Titus
  • “I’m glad you don’t suck at everything, dad.”  - Tessa
  • “Human beings have asked us to play by their rules.  Well, the rules have just changed.”  - Optimus
  • “I’m literally going to kill you.”  - Cade to Shane
  • “That’s a bad idea, but I’m all about bad ideas.”  - Hound
  • “This one’s for you, A-hole.”  - green Transformer
  • Cade yells “Where are you going?”  Green transformer snaps “To lay some hay.”
  • “Never is here.”  - bad robot
  • “I’m coming for you.”  - Optimus Prime

Tips for parents:   I appreciated the parental aspect of the movie that features a dad trying to raise his daughter in a dangerous world.  He says to his gorgeous daughter with amazing legs “Sweetie, your shorts are shrinking by the second.”  Early in the movie he says “I promise you, one day I’m going to build something that matters.”  He’s an inventor, but what he builds that matters the most in the movie is his relationship with his daughter. This movie is long and loud.  Some profanity, lots of violence, and 1 F-bomb.
In case you missed the first 3 Transformers movies:

The Fault in Our Stars has very few faults

Movie Title:  The Fault in Our Stars
PG-13, 2 hours 5 minutes

Grade:  A-

In a Nutshell:   I’m going to have to read this book.  The movie is based on the #1 bestselling novel by John Green and only whets your appetite with meaty nuggets of wisdom about life and love.  Get your tissues ready.  The movie starts with Hazel Grace, a teenager who battles every day with lung cancer: “I believe we have a choice in this world about how to tell sad stories.  One the one hand, you can sugar-coat it, the way they do in movies and romance novels for beautiful people to learn beautiful lessons, when nothing’s too messed up that can’t be fixed with an apology or a Peter Gabriel song.  I like that version as much as the next girl does, believe me.  It’s just not the truth.  This is the truth.  Sorry.”

Uplifting theme: 
  • They say you can write your own eulogy.  How?  Write what you want to happen in your life and then live it.
  • Death is unbearable, but so is living a life without love and less than what you are capable of.
  • There is an honesty to the way people with incurable diseases live.  Unlike the rest of us who pretend that we can have as many days and nights as we want, those who stare death in the face every day truly understand the value of time.
  • The movie isn’t so much about dying, but living in the face of death and after a loved one dies.

Things I liked:
  • As an author myself, I loved the part of the story that features Hazel Grace’s relationship with a writer of a book she is obsessed with.  I love the title of the book “Imperial Affliction” and the fact that the story ends in the middle of a sentence. Hazel says “It’s so truthful.  You just die.  You die in the middle of a sentence.”
  • I loved Augustus’ cigarette metaphor: “They don’t kill you unless you light them, and I’ve never lit one.  It’s a metaphor.  See, you put the killing thing right between your teeth, but you don’t give it the power to do its killing.  A metaphor.”  Not that I would go so far as to buy cigarettes to put between my lips, but I love the feeling of empowerment and defiance that image evokes.
  • I loved seeing the bridges in Amsterdam that Hazel and Gus sailed underneath.  It’s on my Bucket List.
  • I thought it was cute that two of the couples in the movie have a word they lovingly repeated to each other like “always” or Hazel and Gus’ “OK.”  One word can say so much.
  • I liked Hazel and Gus’ conversation about believing in something after this life.  Gus said he absolutely did…“Otherwise, what’s the point?”
  • It’s always great to see Willem Dafoe in anything.
  • There is warmth, humor, and honesty in the story-telling.  Cancer weepies can often be too contrived and manipulative, but there is enough snark and wisdom in this film to pull it off.

Things I didn’t like:
  • Only in Chick Flicks do teenage boys fall all over themselves to win a girl’s affection.  Guys: take note…it works every time.
  • The music tends to cue you on when to cry, but you do it anyway.
  • Call me an old fuddy-duddy, but I really hate watching pre-marital sex scenes.  I also hate it when people make fun of well-intentioned Christians, like Hazel and Gus do in their cancer therapy session when their group leader starts singing to give them hope.

Did you know?
  • The imaginative playground with the skeleton where Hazel and Gus have a picnic is actually located on the grounds of the Indianapolis Museum of Art and is called “Funky Bones.”
  • Dozens of web sites have been created by fans who want to continue talking about this book and movie.
  • Sheilene Woodley (Hazel Grace) and Ansel Elgort (Augustus) did a fantastic job.  They played brother and sister in Divergent and have great chemistry together.  Sheilene admits they have more of a brother-sister relationship in real life…not romantic.  You can read my movie review about Divergent here.

Interesting lines:
  • “That’s the thing about pain: it demands to be felt.”   - Augustus
  • “I wouldn’t mind.  It would be my privilege to have my heart broken by you.”  - Augustus
  • “I’m a grenade.  One day I’m going to explode and obliterate everything in my wake and I don’t know…It’s just my responsibility to minimize the casualties.”  - Hazel Grace
  • “Everything’s coming up Waters.”  - Hazel Grace
  • “You two are so adorable.”  - Mom
“We’re just friends.”  - Hazel Grace
 “Well, she is.  I’m not.” – Augustus

  • The waiter in the beautiful Amsterdam restaurant asked Hazel Grace and Gus “Do you know what Don Perignon said after he invented champagne?”  “Come quickly!  I’m tasting the stars!”  The waiter then told them“We’ve bottled all the stars for you, my young friends.”
  • “I want this Dragon Carrot Risotti to become a person so that I can take it to Vegas and marry it.”  - Gus
  • “You’re American.”  - Van Houten’s assistant   
“Incurably so.”  - Author Peter  Van Houten

  • “You gave me a forever within a numbered days and, for that, I am eternally grateful.”  - Hazel to Gus
  • “If you want the rainbow, you have to deal with the rain.”  - sign that hangs on Gus’ wall at home.
  • “Funerals are not for the dead.  They’re for the living.”  - Hazel Grace
  • “You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, but you do have a say in who hurts you and I like my choices.”  - Gus
  • “I fell in love the way you fall asleep…slowly, then all at once.”  - Hazel
  • “Embrace your destiny and leave your mark on the world.”  - Augustus

Funny lines:
  • “So yeah, that just happened.  I’ve been trying to tell you… I’m kinda awesome.”  - Augustus
  • Hazel, Gus and Isaac egg a house and Hazel says “Guys, I think we should wait until it’s dark.”  Gus reminds her that Isaac is blind and says “It’s all dark to Isaac.” 
  • Hazel asks Isaac, who just broke up with his girlfriend, “Do you want to talk about it?”  His honest reply: “No, I just want to cry and play video games.”

Tips for parents:  Pre-marital sex, groping, 1 F-bomb and some other profanity.  The movie creates some good opportunities to talk to your children about:
  • Disabilities
  • Terminal illness & lung diseases
  • Anne Frank
  • Amsterdam
  • Death
  • The Trolley Problem
The rest of the story: This love story has a sad, but romantic real-life ending.  Katie Prager died 5 days after her husband died due to complications from cystic fibrosis and a lung transplant.  She was only 26 years old.  To learn more about the real couple in this movie, watch this video clip from CNN: 


Saturday, June 7, 2014

See Edge of Tomorrow Today

Movie Title:  Edge of Tomorrow
PG-13, 1 hour 53 minutes

Grade:  A-

In a Nutshell:   This is Groundhog Day on steroids!  (I love that Bill Murray classic.)  Add the uber-intense Tom Cruise and the beautiful Emily Blunt, along with flawed, but heroic soldiers and you’ve got an action movie sure to thrill.  Video gamers will almost feel like they’re inside a Halo: Combat Evolved , complete with resets after dying and kicking alien butt.

Uplifting theme:
  • Humanity is worth fighting for.
  • Every moment of life is precious.

Things I liked:
  • I thought it was appropriate for the film’s opening weekend to be during the 70th anniversary of D-Day.  Replace Nazis with aliens and you’ll still feel patriotic.
  • It’s kind of amazing to see a movie which actually ends, rather than one that Hollywood tosses out there, hoping to pump out a mediocre sequel for you to spend your hard-earned money on.  
  • The super fast, squiggly aliens were cool, especially the “Alpha” when he growls.
  • I saw it in IMAX 3D, which made some of the action sequences epic.  When someone got tasered, I was almost worried I’d get hit too. 
  • I loved the fat soldier’s t-shirt that said “Mimic this.” It’s funny as is, but has another meaning when you learn that they call the aliens “mimics.”
  • I loved the high-tech mech-suits the soldiers wear.
  •  Emily Blunt was really cute in The Devil Wears Prada , but now she is even sexier as a strong, fighting machine.  Her body-double does some amazing stunts, including a ridiculously awesome push-up pose with her feet lifted off the ground (is that even possible?), but she's believable as a determined and tough soldier.

Things I didn’t like:
  • It shows a movie clip of Hillary Clinton in some kind of executive meeting, as if she is president of the United States.  Was that a subtle bit of hopeful propaganda for the next presidential election?
  • There was a plot hole in the ending…as if the rest of the movie was believable.  haha

Inspiring lines:
  • “The fiery crucible, the only place where true heroes are forged.”  - Master Sergeant Farrel
  • “There’s no courage without fear.”  - Master Sergeant Farrel
  • “We fight.  That’s what we do.”  - Major William Cage

Funny lines: 
  • “What do we do now?  - Rita Vrataski
“I don’t know.  We’ve never gotten this far.”  - Major William Cage
  • “Where is the safety?”  - Major William Cage
“Exactly!”  - mocking soldiers
  • “What day is it?”  - Major William Cage
“For you?  Judgment Day.”  - soldier

Tips for parents:  Be prepared for lots and lots of violence.  There is one F-bomb, but only a few other“mild” forms of profanity, which is impressive since it's such a testosterone-filled fighting flick.  There is a creepy shot of a burning/melting face, as well as one of a fat guy’s bum….both are a bit disturbing.

If you love the whole time-loop concept like I do, check out the following movies: 

Kids who like time travel will get a kick out of Mr. Peabody and Sherman.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

X-Men Days of Future Past gets thumbs up from fans

PG-13, 2 hours 11 minutes

 Grade:  B+

In a Nutshell:  Some are saying this new edition of the beloved X-Men franchise is the best one yet.   Some of the popular Marvel characters make sacrifices to protect their future by going back in the past.  Young Charles yells “I don’t want your suffering!  I don’t want your future!” but learns that pain and experience bring wisdom.

The story jumps from past and future, which could confuse newbies who haven’t seen prior X-Men movies.   Some of the character development will also be lost on those who are unfamiliar with their growth throughout the movie installments.   Otherwise, expect lots of cool special effects and fight scenes.  With a little bit of a The Matrix feel to it, fans will enjoy the journey through a perilous timeline.

Uplifting theme: 
  • “Can we evolve fast enough to change ourselves?  Change our fate?”
  • “Just because someone stumbles, loses their way doesn’t mean they’re lost forever.  Sometimes we all need a little help” explains Charles Xavier, illuminating the need for hope in our lives.
  • “Pain will make you stronger” says Charles Xavier to his younger self.  “It’s our greatest gift: to bear their pain without breaking, and it’s born from the most human part…hope.”  I’m a sucker for movies about hope.
  • Even heroes need to be saved sometimes.
Things I liked:

  • The X-Men franchise hit a gold mine when they cast Hugh Jackman as Logan/Wolverine.  He is so ridiculously talented that he has never been stuck in type-cast mode, but continually pumps out successful movies in a variety of genres.
  • James McAvoy does a fantastic job portraying a young Charles Xavier and Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique/Raven wows, as always.  She speaks Vietnamese and offers some fancy fight moves to scenes that might otherwise just provide flying bullets.   That’s a brave actress who is willing to wear the skin-tight blue suit of Raven.
  • I’d love to have one of those cool portal bomb things that allows you to instantly pop in and out of locations.  Imagine how much I could get done!
  • I cracked up when I saw the guy duct-taped to the wall.
  • I loved the “Time in a Bottle” slow-motion scene, featuring QuickSilver, the film’s introduction to a witty mutant who can move so fast that time seems to slow down.  This scene sequence is the funniest in the entire movie.  The faster my kids grow up, the more often I wish I had the mutant power of slowing down time.
  • How would you like to have that one mutant’s power to make people start throwing up instantly?  (About 22 minutes into the film.)
  • Directors Bryan singer and Matthew Vaughn create a look that feels like you’re back in the 1970’s with kitchy gags and an old news reel atmosphere.  There is some interesting commentary about the Vietnam War and even a glance at Nixon recording tapes during a meeting.  (Mark Camacho does a terrific job as President Nixon.) 
  • Logan travels to the 1970s and wakes up in a waterbed and, of course, slices it accidentally with his claws.  Haha  I grew up on a waterbed and often worried I’d pop it.
  • I got a kick out of the short Star Trek clip of Captain Kirk saying “We’re going back in time.”
  • Peter Dinklage does a great job as Bolivar Trask.  Way to rock the 70’s ‘stache.
  • Marvel fans will appreciate the meaty motivations beneath the action sequences.

Things I didn’t like:

  • Some of the graphics and fight scenes happen so fast you can’t appreciate everything on the screen.
  • Some of the film’s most profound lines are uttered in a whisper so that you have to really strain to appreciate them.
  • I feel bad that an actress as talented as Halle Berry has to play a mutant whose power isn’t very exciting and who doesn’t get much screen time.

Interesting lines:

  • “You and I are going to be good friends.  (Punch in face)  You just don’t know it yet.”  - Wolverine to Hank McCoy/Beast
  • “Get off the bloody chandelier, Hank.” – Young Charles Xavier to Beast
  • “You built these weapons to destroy us.  Why?  Because you’re afraid of our gifts.  We are different.  Humanity has always feared that which is different.” – Erik Lensherr/Magneto
  • “Countless choices define our fate.  Each choice, each moment, a ripple in the river of time.  Enough ripples and you change the tide, for the future is never truly set.”  - Charles Xavier
  • Bishop says “You can’t stop that many.”  “No, but we can slow them down” replies Storm.
  • Charles Xavier says “Tell whoever it is that sent you that I’m busy.”  Logan reveals “The person who sent me was you.”

Tips for parents: 

*  Hugh Jackman fans will be treated to a full rear view of a naked Logan.  Parents, be warned.  There is not very much profanity, but a lot of violence and fight scenes.  Young children won’t be able to follow the story line, but will enjoy the action and cool special effects.

If you've never seen an X-Men movie, you've got a lot of catching up to do!  Here's a start: